The field of nanotechnology, the manipulation of matter on an atomic or molecular scale, emerged during the past two decades and has already transformed many industries and holds tremendous promise for overcoming some of the important challenges we face as a society. To harness the full potential of nanotechnology requires the collective expertise of scientists and engineers from a range of disciplines. Our faculty – physicists, biologists, chemists, engineers, and medical researchers – work together, at the intersections of their disciplines, to solve some of the grand challenges we face.
BU’s strengths lie in four areas: nanomedicine, nanophotonics, nanotechnologies for energy, and nanomaterials. At the Nanotechnology Innovation Center, a special but not exclusive emphasis is on nanomedicine and nanotechnologies for cancer diagnosis and treatment.
This section highlights some of the research underway in BU-NANO faculty labs:
- The Grinstaff Group: Tackling Medical Challenges
- Joyce Wong Biomimetic Materials Engineering Laboratory
- The Klapperich Laboratory for Diagnostics and Global Healthcare Technologies
- Tyrone Porter Nanomedicine and Medical Acoustics Laboratory
- Andersson Lab: Systems and Control Theory in Nanobioscience and Robotics
- Meller Group: Single Molecule Biophysics & Nano-biotechnology
- Goldberg-Unlu-Swan Optical Characterization and Nanophotonics Laboratory
- Zhang Laboratory for Microsystems Technology
- Reinhard Nano-Bio Interface lab
- Spira-Lenburg Lab: Improving the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of lung disease
For 11 years, The Grinstaff Group, a lab with more than 20 graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, led by Professor Mark Grinstaff, has been combining members’ expertise in chemistry, pharmacology, and biomedical and mechanical engineering to tackle complicated medical challenges. Three of the group’s projects have moved from basic scientific exploration to biomedical devices or materials that students, with Grinstaff’s guidance, have commercialized.
Reflecting Grinstaff’s multiple interests and range of expertise, his group never focuses on one problem at a time. Among the more advanced projects, two are developing novel methods to deliver drugs directly to tumor cells of particularly pernicious cancers. In the early-stage lung cancer group, students have designed a variety of flexible polymer films that can be stapled along lung tissue where a tumor has been removed. A chemotherapy drug, like paclitaxel, embedded within the film releases slowly over time to attack new generations of remaining cancer cells. Other students are creating nanoparticles that are absorbed by late-stage mesothelioma tumor cells, then expand, and like microscopic Trojan horses, release chemotherapy. A third group hopes to find better ways to diagnose and treat damaged cartilage tissue.
Students are also developing bandages that gently and painlessly wash off, with an eye toward reducing the misery of wound care for second-degree burns. Others are building a diagnostic tool that would size single strands of DNA—an essential step in identifying pathogens that cause menacing bacterial diseases, such as staphylcoccal infection and meningitis, with Amit Meller, an ENG associate professor of biomedical engineering. Another group is building a lithium ion battery that can be used for oil and gas exploration.
Joyce Wong, Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Materials Science & Engineering, directs the Biomimetic Materials Engineering Laboratory, which is focused on developing biomaterial systems that mimic physiological and pathophysiological environments to study fundamental cellular processes at the biointerface. Current research areas include pediatric vascular tissue engineering, theranostics for cardiovascular disease and cancer, detecting and treating surgical adhesions, silk materiomics, nanoparticle sensors for enhanced oil recovery, and engineering biomimetic systems to study restenosis and cancer metastasis.
The Klapperich Laboratory for Diagnostics and Global Healthcare Technologies is focused on the design and engineering of manufacturable, disposable systems for low-cost point-of-care molecular diagnostics. The Klapperich Lab has invented technologies to perform microfluidic sample preparation for bacterial and viral targets from several human body fluids including, urine, blood, stool and nasowash. These technologies include nucleic acid extraction, protein extraction, microorganism enrichment and/or concentration and small-scale dialysis. They are currently working on devices for the detection and quantification of HIV, hemorrhagic fevers, infectious diarrheas, influenza, MRSA and cancer biomarkers. Projects include detection by PCR, isothermal amplification, and novel optical techniques. Our main application area is global health. We consider assay development, device design, sample flow, storage and transport all opportunities to drive down the cost and increase the accessibility of molecular tests in the developing world.
The Nanomedicine and Medical Acoustics Laboratory (NanoMedAL) was founded in 2006 by Dr. Tyrone Porter in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Boston University. The mission of the lab is:
- To advance current understanding of acoustics, especially in regard to medical applications;
- To develop stimuli-responsive colloids (i.e. sensitive to changes in pressure, pH, or temperature) for diagnostic and therapeutic applications;
- To provide rigorous education and training in multidisciplinary engineering research, spanning biochemistry, molecular and cellular biology, acoustics, and nanotechnology.
The Andersson Lab focuses on systems and control theory in:
Nanobioscience and nanotechnology. The ability to investigate the dynamics of single molecules and of the interactions between molecules, in vitro and in living cells, is a critical component for continued progress in molecular biology. We are investigating novel methods for rapid imaging of samples and for studying dynamics in systems with nanometer-scale phenomena with ongoing projects in single molecule tracking in fluorescence microscopy and high-speed imaging in atomic force microscopy.
Robotics. Stochastic effects in both sensors and actuators are a pervasive feature in robotics. We are developing methods for the autonomous control of robots evolving in complex, real-world settings and subject to such disturbances. Ongoing projects include formal approaches to planning and control of robot motion and interactive approaches for robot navigation and control.
The Meller Group: Single Molecule Biophysics & Nano-biotechnology Lab, directed by Dr. Amit Meller, focuses on the development of novel experimental techniques for the study of biomolecular interactions and dynamics at the single molecule or at the single complex level. In particular:
- Employing nanopore force spectroscopy to study RNA unfolding and re-folding kinetics
- DNA switches and transcription initiation kinetics
- RNA helicases activity
- Mapping of transcription factors interactions with DNA
- Ultra-fast DNA sequencing
- Development of novel optical methods for single molecule detection in biomedical applications
Research in the Optical Characterization and Nanophotonics (OCN) Laboratory focuses on developing and applying advanced optical characterization techniques to the study of solid-state and biological phenomena at the nanoscale. Under the direction of Professors Bennett Goldberg, Anna Swan and Selim Ünlü, the OCN Lab is an interdisciplinary group of faculty, graduate and undergraduate students, and visitors including guest faculty, students, and often high school students and teachers working on a broad range of research projects. The laboratory has a vertically integrated structure where researchers ranging from high school students to senior professors work together on truly interdisciplinary research topics.
Current projects include development of high-resolution subsurface imaging techniques based on numerical aperture increasing lens (NAIL) for the study of semiconductor devices and circuits and spectroscopy of quantum dots; optical characterization of carbon nanotubes; biosensors based on microring resonators; and development of new nanoscale microscopy techniques utilizing interference of excitation as well as emission from fluorescent molecules. In addition to microscopy, optical resonance is nearly ubiquitous in our research projects including development of resonant cavity enhanced photodetectors and imaging biosensors for DNA and protein arrays.
The Laboratory for Microsystems Technology (LMST), headed by Dr. Xin Zhang, is dedicated to interdisciplinary research in the design, fabrication, characterization, packaging, and operation of Microelectromechanical Systems (MEMS) and Nanoelectromechanical Systems (NEMS). The lab applies materials science, micro/nanomechanics, and micro/nanomanufacturing technologies to solve various engineering problems that are motivated by practical applications in MEMS/NEMS and emerging nanobiotechnologies. LMST is also a general biochemistry laboratory that has a strong collaboration with the Boston University School of Medicine.
Bjoern Reinhard’s Nano-Bio Interface Lab is interested in the design, implementation, and characterization of new tools for imaging and manipulation of inorganic and biological materials. One aim is to produce hybrid materials that combine the interesting electronic/optical properties of inorganic materials with the structural properties of biological materials. We are currently also developing new probes and sensing schemes to characterize the function and dynamics of individual biological molecules and complexes. The ultimate goal of these studies is to generate reliable tools that can grant insight into fundamental biological processes on a single molecule level.
The focus of the Spira-Lenburg Lab is translational research to better understand lung biology and disease using post-genomic technologies and computational tools. The long terms goals of the lab are twofold. On the one hand, the group seeks to leverage these approaches to improve the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of lung disease. On the other hand, they seek to develop and apply new research approaches and to train physician-scientists and graduate students who can apply these tools in the setting of translational research.